What do you mean do something? Generally, people just look at me and applaud.
This is a lovely cover for The Package, aka The Package Deal, by Willis T. Ballard. It's a book we talked about and shared a cover for a few years ago. We don't know which art we like better. Probably the above example. Both illustrations are uncredited, but this one could be by John Richards. His work was appearing on Corgi fronts around this time, 1959 in this case.
Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.
Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.
There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.
Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.
We have a couple of juicy parts for you. Then afterward we'll give you a role.
Above is a cover for Willis T. Ballard's novel The Package Deal, and we can hear you groaning out there, but really, what are we to do with a cover like this other than make the most obvious tasteless joke possible? The predatory Hollywood producer is an archetypal character in mid-century literature and—as has been documented of late—in real life too. But for the purposes of this website, we're only interested in fiction, and here you get a story about a producer trying to rekindle his career in television after serving in the military during World War II. He struggles to make a show called Mr. Detective a hit. It stars an ambitious actress named Marianne Delaine, and she comes attached to a problematic financial backer. Ballard worked in television for years on shows like Dick Tracy and Cowboy G-Men, so the hook here is that he gives you an insider depiction of that realm. This was originally published in 1956, and the above edition from Bantam came a year later, with uncredited cover art.
I told you to always stand on a hard 17, and never double down when they deal out death, but you don't listen.
Dealing Out Death is another paperback given to us by a friend. He bought it randomly years ago and passed it along to us when he visited from the States a while back. Of the books he gave us we'd have read this one first if we knew, one, that it had to do with the movie industry (where we once worked), and two, that it was so good. It was written by W.T. Ballard, published by Graphic Books in 1948, and deals with bigtime studio VP Bill Lennox, who tries to figure out who murdered star actress Renée Wilson's husband. Wilson is in Las Vegas to deal with a personal matter—her screw-up brother's desperate plea for money to get out from under a mob boss—but soon discovers that her brother's troubles and her husband's murder are connected to an impending turf war, one initiated by mobsters from the east who want to move in on the legitimate hotel owners. Lennox flies out from Hollywood to find the killer, save his star actress from both danger and bad publicity, and navigate the seething cauldron of Vegas without losing his cool or his life.
In mid-century crime fiction you find tough guys in unlikely places. The various authors, casting about for signature characters, made ass kickers out of insurance adjusters, chemists, charter fishermen, and more. Having known a few movie producers we can tell you they run the gamut. Being a producer generally means you merely have access to money or the ability to raise it, or you have access to a script or treatment and the mandate to shop it. You can get into such a position by working your way up the ladder, but if you come to the party with money already in pocket that buys your entrance. Thus producers in both the old days and today might be former organized crime guys, former drug dealers, and such. Think Chili Palmer in Get Shorty. So the fact that the studio exec hero in Dealing Out Death is so tough is unusual but not unrealistic. Ballard uses the character of Lennox to construct an engrossing plot, imbue it with a strong sense of place, and populate it with numerous competing personalities. He's a very confident writer and he gets the job done in Dealing Out Death briskly and skillfully. The ending is not perfect, but they rarely are. Recommended stuff.
Show me what's under yours and I'll show you what's under mine.
This beautiful cover for Neil McNeil's 1960 thriller Hot Dam featuring a redhead topped by a tam and wearing a kilt-like skirt is uncredited, if you can believe that. We checked around the usual spots and nobody has a clue, so into the unknown bin it goes. As for the fiction, Hot Dam is the fourth of seven novels starring McNeil's detectives Tony Costaine and Bert McCall, two toughs who don't hesitate to shoot their way into and out of trouble. This one tells the story of a valley about to be flooded after the construction of a dam, and the townspeople reluctant to move. Based on that description you'd think the good guys are the townspeople, but this is the golden age of consequence-free industry, which means it's the dam builders who are the protagonists. And of course those standing in the way of progress aren't doing it for environmental or sentimental reasons, but rather—as the cover notes—to protect a fortune in bootleg whisky hidden somewhere in the valley. The booze is owned by a clan of kilt clad Scots who have violent tendencies and a connection to old world druidism, but other villains want it too. And when McCall discovers he's related to the crazy Scots things get really interesting. Pretty good book all in all. It delivers action, an interesting setting, and both leads get laid multiple times. What more is there?
She's not bad. She's just painted that way.
Peter Driben illustrated relatively few book covers compared to his magazine output. We showed you a rare paperback from him a few years ago, and above you see another—his work on W. T. Ballard's 1943 thriller Say Yes to Murder, for publisher Martin Goodman. The book is part of a series starring Ballard's character William Lennox, who was a detective-like troubleshooter for fictitious General Consolidated Studios. He investigates the murder of an actor found stabbed and lying under the bed of actress Jean Jeffries, who is the granddaughter of one of Lennox’s close friends. As a troubleshooter, Lennox's first duty is to move the body to avoid scandal for the studio (that's the difference between a detective and a troubleshooter) and only then does he try to unravel the mystery. Lennox appeared in three other Ballard novels—1946's Murder Can’t Stop, 1948's Dealing Out Death, and 1960's Lights, Camera, Murder, which he wrote as John Shepherd. Martin Goodman, you probably know already, later went on to create Marvel Comics. You can see that other nice Driben cover we mentioned here, and three brilliant Dutch covers here. We'll keep an eye out for more.
Wow, these are great. I can't believe I was ever worried about getting “the” and “twins” tattooed on my boobs.
When we started thinking about this post we went straight to candies for tattoo ideas. Apparently there's a candy called Nik-L-Nips that you have to suck the juice out of, but we thought that was too obscure, and of course Milk Duds was an obvious option, but it sounds a bit insulting, so in the end “the twins” seemed like a classic. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends agreed. Brian Agar's Have Love, Will Share is a bit of a classic too, or at least it uses a classic sleaze set-up—the marriage counselor whose patient is a nymphomaniac and soon sets her eyes on the doctor. Agar was a pen name used by author W.T. Ballard, an original contributor to Black Mask who wrote many novels under many names, including Jack Slade, Clay Turner, et al. This effort is from 1961 and it has Rafael DeSoto cover art.
Vintage paperback violence gets up close and personal.
We have another collection today as we prepare to jet away on vacation with the girls. Since the place we’re going is known for rowdy British tourists (what place isn’t known for that?), we thought we’d feature some of the numerous paperback covers featuring fights. You’ll notice, as with our last collection, the preponderance of French books. Parisian publishers loved this theme. The difference, as opposed to American publishers, is that you almost never saw women actually being hit on French covers (we’d almost go so far as to say it never happened, but we’ve obviously not seen every French paperback ever printed). The French preferred man-on-man violence, and when women were involved, they were either acquitting themselves nicely, or often winning via the use of sharp or blunt instruments.
Violence against women is and has always been a serious problem in the real world, but we’re just looking at products of the imagination here, which themselves represent products of the imagination known as fiction. Content-wise, mid-century authors generally frowned upon violence toward women even if they wrote it into their novels. Conversely, the cover art, stripped of literary context, seemed to glorify it. Since cover art is designed to entice readers, there’s a valid discussion here about why anti-woman violence was deemed attractive on mid-century paperback fronts, and whether its disappearance indicates an understanding of its wrongness, or merely a cynical realization that it can no longer be shown without consequences. We have another fighting cover here, and you may also want to check out our western brawls here.
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